Monday, January 17, 2022

Anthony Joshua: Riding on the AJ train

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Britain’s Anthony Joshua (L) looks for an opening against Ukraine’s Wladimir Klitschko during the third round of their IBF, IBO and WBA, world Heavyweight title fight at Wembley Stadium in north west London on April 29, 2017. PHOTO: Ben STANSALL / AFP

“Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep” – Romans 12:15

The essence of the above verse of Scripture is not that sorrow is something desirable, but that in order to refer to another as kin, you must be willing to share in his/her inevitable highs and lows. Amusingly enough, Nigeria, the deeply religious nation that she is, continues to stumble at this basic truth.

It has been interesting to observe the reaction to Anthony Joshua. That’s the IBF, IBA and WBO World Heavyweight Champion, by the way. He is 27, of Nigerian and Irish parentage, and fights under the flag of Great Britain, where he was born. His fight last month with Vladimir Klitschko was seen by millions around the world, and has been hailed as signalling the resurrection of the heavyweight division.

It is no surprise then that, in his hour of success, Nigeria has sought to play up its relatively minute part in making Joshua the champion that he now is. That is, to an extent, understandable. What is not, though, is the length to which some members of the political class are prepared to go, in order to piggyback on the achievements of a young man who has repeatedly proclaimed himself a “citizen of the world”.

It began with Senator Ben Murray Bruce, representing Bayelsa State in Nigeria’s South-South region, tweeting: “The best thing to do for our image is to invite Anthony Joshua to Aso Rock for a hero’s welcome and make him a brand ambassador for Nigeria!”

One is tempted to ask if the Senator is aware of a certain Wellington Jighere. He is 35, and the first African to win the World Scrabble Championship in 2015, a victory that put Nigeria on the world map. Yet, as recently as last year, he was initially denied a visa to partake in a Scrabble tournament in France, and had to take to Facebook to express his displeasure, before a swell of public anger prompted a change at the French Embassy.

No one, not even Murray Bruce, said anything about making Jighere a brand ambassador. Wouldn’t it be something to have an image of him at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport, saying, “Welcome to Nigeria, the home of the world no.1 Scrabble player”? But then, perhaps Warri is not as glamorous to identify with as Watford.

When the Nigerian national basketball team, D’Tigers, won the 2015 FIBA Africa Championship in Tunisia for the first time ever, there wasn’t much said by the good Senator either. Ironic, considering he constantly champions fidelity to indigenous brands and products, isn’t it?

This is not to castigate Mr Murray Bruce, of course. One might consider his idea was not properly thought out, and he spoke in the heat of the moment. The reactions would get even more incredible.

The Ogun state Commissioner for Youth and Sports, Hon Moruf Afolabi, then revealed plans of the State Government to pay a visit to the world champion in London, to “congratulate him on the victory and for making the state to attain another first in the area of boxing.”

When super falcons won, they were shamed. Perhaps it is that their total dominance on the continent has gotten boring, but these ladies had to stage a protest to receive their own allowances after winning the Africa Women’s Nations Cup last year. One of the pleas of the government was that the economy of the country was suffering, and the pinch was being felt across the board.

This is all well and good, but considering this, as well as the lengths the common man has to go to make ends meet, how will those who have been busting a gut, spending their own money to bring glory to Nigeria – with no support whatsoever – feel to see Joshua being serenaded by the same government that ignores them? What impression does it create in their minds? There are many notable people who have brought glory to Nigeria, yet have not been made brand ambassadors. It makes no sense.

Daniel Igali (a multiple Olympic champions wrestling for Canada, ironically) and his wrestlers were put through the wringer in order to even be present in Morocco for the African Wrestling Championships last month. In spite of this, they came out gleaming with medals. There is still no acknowledgement of their achievement. But we all have to ride the AJ train.

I was privileged to interview Chubuike Solomon in Lagos recently. The name will be unfamiliar to most people, unsurprisingly, but he is Nigeria’s Superheavyweight champion, and is considered the future of Nigerian boxing by those who have kept tabs on his burgeoning career (he apparently only started fighting seven months ago!).

In many ways, his rise channels the speed of Joshua’s, but predictably he is getting zero support or acknowledgement. The treatment of Joshua shows him: were he to emigrate and fight for another country, he would get better treatment. We are doomed, it seems, never to learn from our mistakes.

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